Cheltenham Racecourse gets 2017 underway this Sunday with a superb day's racing on New Year's Day that includes top-quality Graded action, a pair of Listed races and three fiercely competitive handicaps.
The £40,000 Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (3.10pm) has attracted a classy field of nine including the 2015 Stayers' Hurdle champion Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan), who returns to the smaller obstacles after finishing second on his chase debut at Wetherby on December 3.
Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King/Trevor Whelan) was second in last season's Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle and has been in excellent form this season, finishing second at Ascot in both the G2 Ascot Hurdle and the G1 JLT Long Walk Hurdle.
L'Ami Serge (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) reverts to hurdles following some fine efforts over fences, including when taking third in the G1 JLT Novices' Chase at The Festival in March.
Last year's winner Camping Ground, who is trained by Robert Walford and ridden by Aidan Coleman, is also returning to the smaller obstacles following two appearances in graduation chases this season. The son of Goldneyev was runner-up to subsequent G2 Peterborough Chase winner Josses Hill at Kempton Park on November 7 before falling when travelling well at Newbury on December 14.
Robert Walford commented: "Camping Ground is in good form. We had a little bit of a hiccup last time out over fences so we decided to go back over hurdles and see how we get on.
"He looks and feels like a chaser but you can't make mistakes over fences at the level he has been running at.
"He won this race on heavy ground last year - we were wondering what he would go on and do afterwards but he lost his way a bit. This year will be very different conditions but we will have a go and see what happens."
Henderson has also declared Protek Des Flos (Barry Geraghty), a G2 winner on Festival Trials Day in January, while a pair of runners from the stable of Paul Nicholls consists of three-time Cheltenham scorer Old Guard (Sam Twiston-Davies) and last season's G1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle victor Adrien Du Pont (Sean Bowen).
Agrapart (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly), successful in last season's G3 Betfair Hurdle, and the 2016 G1 Triumph Hurdle fifth Leoncavallo (Ben Pauling/Mr Alex Ferguson) complete the field.
Clan Des Obeaux (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies) readily won a G2 novices' chase at Newbury in November and heads five runners in the £32,000 G2 BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase (1.25pm) over two miles and five furlongs.
The Nicky Henderson-trained pair of G1-winning hurdler Whisper (Davy Russell), who took the Ryman Novices' Chase at The International, and O O Seven (Barry Geraghty), a 10-length scorer at The Open, have also been declared, while Briery Belle (Henry Daly/Tom O'Brien) is unbeaten in two chase appearances.
Sunday's richest contest is the £60,000 G3 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (2.00pm). The 13 runners for the two mile five-furlong contest are headed by Top Gamble (Kerry Lee/Davy Russell), a two-time G2 winner over fences last season.
Last year's winner Village Vic (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson) and Quite By Chance (Colin Tizzard/Tom O'Brien) are due to re-oppose after finishing third and fourth respectively in the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at The International.
Other contenders include Tenor Nivernais (Venetia Williams), runner-up to Village Vic 12 months ago, Grand Sefton Handicap Chase victor As De Mee (Paul Nicholls/Sean Bowen) and the 2014 Irish Grand National winner Shutthefrontdoor (Jonjo O'Neill/Barry Geraghty).
Hennessy Gold Cup sixth Vyta Du Roc (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) lines up in the £20,000 Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase (12.50pm). His 16 rivals in the extended three and a quarter mile contest are set to include veteran chaser Any Currency (Martin Keighley/Andrew Tinkler) and Lamb Or Cod (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson), who took a Chepstow handicap chase on his latest start.
A field of 12 for the three-mile £20,000 BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle (2.35pm) includes Call To Order (Jonjo O'Neill/Aidan Coleman), who scored over the same course and distance at The International.
G3 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle third Coo Star Sivola (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly) and Cheltenham scorer Pingshu (Colin Tizzard/Aidan Coleman) feature among a field of 11 for the opening £20,000 Listed Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle (12.15pm) over an extended two and a half miles.
A seven-race card concludes with the £20,000 Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open NH Bumper (3.40pm), which has a maximum field of 16 including the hat-trick seeking Shearling (Brian Ellison/Richard Johnson), impressive Newbury winner Cap Soleil (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan) and French import Daphne Du Clos (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob).
Accompanied children, aged under 18, are admitted free of charge at all Cheltenham racedays except during The Festival in March.
After New Year's Day, the next fixture at Cheltenham is on Festival Trials Day, Saturday, January 28, 2017.
Family Fun Zone
There is lots of entertainment off the track to keep the whole family amused on New Year's Day.
Characters from Ice Age will be making appearances throughout the day in the Family Fun Zone, while there will be live music on the Best Mate Plaza from the Hip Cats as well as local favourites Duke performing in The Centaur after racing.
The Family Fun Zone, staged in partnership with the ROA (Racehorse Owners Association), is situated in a new location in the tented village where children can look forward to not only meeting Sid, Scrat and Diego from Ice Age but also entertainer Showtime Shane, who will be performing on the hour live magic for all the family.
There will be face painting, chickens, ducks, rabbits, dogs, pet mice and guinea pigs as well as a duck pond to explore and enjoy. Children can also try their hand at milking Mavis, a life-size cow. As well as all of this, there will be balloon artists, indoor inflatables, rosette making, colouring-in zone, plaiting a horse mane zone, dressing up as a jockey zone and a magic mirror.
There will also be a food offering of seasonal sandwiches, dish of the day, beef burgers, southern fried chicken bites, fish goujons, Chicago Town 4 cheese mini pizzas and fries, along with an assortment of drinks and confectionery items.